With the election looming to decide the next mayor of Los Angeles, Eric Garcetti has extended his lead over Wendy Greuel to a double-digit margin, according to results of a new USC Sol Price School of Public Policy/Los Angeles Times Los Angeles City Election Poll.
LA City Councilman Garcetti is favored by 50 percent of voters, compared to 40 percent for City Controller Greuel.
Despite Greuel’s historic bid to become LA’s first female mayor, she trails among female voters: half back Garcetti and 41 percent support Greuel, the poll showed. Men also back Garcetti over Greuel, 51 percent to 38 percent.
“The Greuel campaign has only recently begun emphasizing the historic nature of her candidacy. They’ve spent a lot of time talking about her work eliminating waste and portraying her as a tough decision maker,” said Dan Schnur, director of the USC Price/LA Times Poll and director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC. “But that may have undermined what should be her natural base of support among female voters.
“Greuel may be suffering from a Hillary Clinton problem,” said Schnur, referencing Clinton’s 2008 presidential bid. “Clinton emphasized her qualities of strength and toughness to such a degree that it mitigated her gender advantage. The difference is that Greuel might still have the time to fix it.”
When asked which candidate “cares more about unions representing city employees than Los Angeles as a whole,” 46 percent of voters said Greuel and 26 percent said Garcetti.
“I think it’s pretty clear what voters want is someone who will represent the entire city and not a perceived special interest,” said Chris St. Hilaire, CEO of Republican polling firm M4 Strategies, who conducted the poll with Democratic polling firm Benenson Strategy Group on behalf of USC Price and the Times.
When asked how an endorsement from a labor union representing city workers would affect their desire to vote for a candidate, 34 percent said the endorsement would make it “less likely” to vote for a candidate versus 32 percent who said “more likely.”
“The most important question in this campaign is whether Wendy Greuel can convince voters that her support from organized labor does not make her beholden to them,” Schnur said.
Garcetti also leads Greuel among young voters (59 percent to 33 percent), among Latinos (58 percent to 37 percent) and among whites (52 percent to 38 percent).
Among black voters, Greuel leads Garcetti, with 55 percent of black voters supporting her compared to 35 percent for Garcetti.
With Republican primary candidate Kevin James’ endorsement, Garcetti garnered support from 55 percent of Republicans, compared to 37 percent who support Greuel. Garcetti leads Greuel among Democrats (50 percent to 41 percent) and independent voters (50 percent to 37 percent).
In the San Fernando Valley — Greuel’s home base of support — she leads by just 2 percentage points, with support from 45 percent of valley voters to Garcetti’s 43 percent. Fifty-six percent of LA’s Westside voters favor Garcetti to Greuel’s 36 percent. In South LA, Garcetti leads Greuel 47 percent to 42 percent.
When asked which candidate they trusted most to handle the city’s budget and financial situation, voters chose Greuel over Garcetti, 47 percent to 39 percent. Forty-five percent of voters said they thought Greuel could best handle schools and education, as compared to 36 percent for Garcetti.
But when asked which candidate “represents all of LA, every neighborhood and race,” 41 percent of voters chose Garcetti and 33 percent chose Greuel. In addition, 43 percent of voters said Garcetti had a “strong and clear vision” for the city’s future, compared to 32 percent who chose Greuel.
“Greuel’s camp is focusing a lot on issues and tactics: She’s strong on the budget and education,” said Amy Levin, vice president of Benenson Strategy Group. “But Garcetti is connecting on a more emotional level, conveying strength of leadership and having a vision for LA. And these higher-level values tend to drive more votes than issues.”
In the race for LA city attorney, the poll showed Assemblyman Mike Feuer leading incumbent Carmen Trutanich, 37 percent to 26 percent.
“This campaign still is a referendum on Carmen Trutanich, and the one thing most voters still know about him is that he promised not to run for another office,” Schnur said. “Until he can replace that promise in voters’ minds with another piece of information, it’s an uphill road for him.”
In the race for LA city controller, Councilman Dennis Zine leads attorney Ron Galperin, 34 percent to 22 percent.
The poll also showed that voters overwhelmingly agree on the importance of public employee pension reform as a priority but find little agreement in what the solution should be.
More than 78 percent of respondents said reducing the city’s pension costs will be important, if not one of the most important priorities, for the city’s next mayor.
But when asked about the best specific strategy to reduce the city’s budget deficit, estimated to possibly exceed $100 million, voters’ minds were split.
More than one-fourth of voters (27 percent) said reducing pension benefits for future city employees was the best solution, while nearly 18 percent advocated raising taxes on businesses; 15 percent preferred restricting raises for city employees, and 12 percent chose restricting benefits for current city employees.
The majority of voters said that cutting employee pensions should be a measure taken to help lower the city’s deficit. Fifty-eight percent favored cuts for both future and current city employees, while 30 percent favored cuts mainly to future employees. Four percent of voters said changes to pension benefits should be targeted mainly at current employees.
Yet despite the city’s financial constraints, poll results found broad public support for the city’s first responders. Nearly 54 percent of voters said police officers and firefighters should not have their pensions trimmed further — after future hires’ pensions were reduced in 2011 — to help balance the budget. Thirty-nine percent said their pensions should be trimmed further.
“Public safety is, has been and likely always will be popular,” St. Hilaire said. “Cuts to public safety are generally a hard pill for the electorate to swallow.”
Levin said that despite broad support for pension reform, voters’ daily concerns take precedence during local elections.
“Pensions are important and can be indicative of a candidate’s values. But with an election at this level, it’s much more about voters and what is going on in their daily lives and what they want for their families than about city budgets,” Levin said.
“The [USC Schwarzenegger Institute for State and Global Policy] is inspired by the level of voter awareness about the issues and especially their listing reforming public pension as an important issue for our next mayor, as well as their willingness to take a balanced approach to both taxes and budget cuts,” said Bonnie Reiss, the institute’s global director.
The USC Price/LA Times Poll was conducted April 15-17 by M4 Strategies and Benenson Strategy Group on behalf of USC Price and the Times. The full sample of 500 likely voters carries a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points.